Sunday, May 25, 2008
Now that all the goalies have been reviewed, it's time to move to the defensemen. It might get a little hairy for these guys, but I think there's been enough time from the end of the season to now where I won't be too hard on them. So let's get to it.
If you said that the Kings’ defense had more holes than a block of Swiss cheese, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. This is obviously the area where the Kings have struggled the most. It's hard to chastise the goaltenders when the Dmen have been lacking themselves. We had 9 defensemen dress this year; 2 of which started the year with the Kings but ended the year on different rosters and 2 that started the year in Manchester but were recalled to close out the year with the Kings.
Might as well start with the cream of the crop, Jack Johnson. One huge positive that we can take away from this defensive unit is the growth of Jack. I feel I was privileged to watch him grow into his role on the blueline. At the beginning of the season, I was unaware of who he was but very aware of his hype. Even though he wasn't drafted by the Kings, he is a cornerstone for this club, one that we can definitely rely on. His comfort level to the end of the year was also bringing out cheeky moves on the ice that I didn't realize he had I him. I'm hoping that he soon accompanies all those head fakes with some sassy finger-snapping. He was paired with Jaroslav Modry for the first half of the season. Since I was away at college for a couple of years, I obviously had difficultly following my team; so when I came back I found this collective fan-hatred for Modry and frustrated people questioning why JJ was being paired with him. Marc Crawford had Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky paired together and it seemed to me that Modry was the logical pairing for JJ. The other options were Tom Preissing (Free Agent), Brad Stuart (Free Agent), and Kevin Dallman (sucks). With DL wanting “homegrown” players, wouldn’t you want to go with Modry too? He’d been with the Kings, knew the system, and was a veteran to whom JJ could learn from.
JJ played in 74 games this season scoring 3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points and amassed a respectable 78 PIM. He ended at a -19 but I'd rather give him a hug than yell at him for this. He won two awards at the end of the season (as voted on by the media): Best Newcomer and Outstanding Defenseman. JJ was understandably tentative in his offensive rushes at the beginning of the season because, at the NHL level, it's much more important to learn how to play your position than to try and rush your offensive output. He kept his offensive movements beyond the opposing blueline to a minimum, which caused me to wonder if he was actually the same Jack Johnson that was so cherished by the Michigan fans. He even stated in an interview that when his college team was down by a goal with a couple minutes left in the 3rd, he'd play the right wing. That hugely dominant player in the college ranks was not the same player here trying to protect our goaltender. But as the games and weeks went by, he got more comfortable in what he could and couldn't do; he also threw up a bunch of big hits while he was at it. The memorable one being the riding of Ryan Smyth that resulted in Smyth lying on the ice. Definitely not JJ's fault and you, sir, should tighten your helmet strap.
At the tail end of the season JJ dropped down to a knee and took a puck of his foot, which ended his season prematurely. This was unfortunate in that he was one of the last big bodies on the back end and I'm sure people were thinking that this put the final nail on the coffin for this season. But Blake and the recalled Jon Klemm were the last two Dmen over 6 feet and they made their presence known. This just reaffirmed that Klemm should be a defenseman and should never be put as a forward again, but I digress.
I'm very excited for JJ's continued growth with this club. Watching him take down opposing forwards and showing flashes of offensive brilliance makes me beyond happy that he's back there constantly learning. Because, really, where would we have been if he wasn't there? Hmm, we could have actually ended 30th in the league, gotten the #1 overall pick, and then could have had full control of who got Steven Stamkos (a.k.a. not the Kings). It's really funny to me to randomly stumble upon commentors from other teams talking about trading with the Kings. The names that usually come up are Dustin Brown, Michael Cammalleri, and Jack Johnson. Dude, you can have Cammy when his value goes up, but when we talk about untouchables in any trade talks, JJ and Brownie are at the top of the list.